Category Archives: Uncategorized

Rock Bottom?

Is this rock bottom?

I feel my season is turning into a full blown disaster.  I imagine it is like a drug addict stuck in a revolving cycle. Perpetually moving and still going nowhere. There are times when the euphoria sets in and times when I want to shoot the dog. Of course I didn’t and never will, but you get the point. And just like an addict stuck in that predictable cycle, I know I cause most of the problems, and I just can’t help myself. I can’t stop.

So, what is my problem exactly? I…. I …. I shoot at birds that aren’t handled correctly. There I said it. I can’t make myself stop. I do not have the discipline to choose good dog work over shooting at a bird. Even though I so desperately want great dog work. And then, I get extremely frustrated at the dogs (and myself) for continuing to mishandle birds. WTF? Even I don’t get it. Even I know it doesn’t make sense. If you want the dog to learn to handle birds correctly, don’t reward the dog and shoot, or often in my case shoot at, mishandled birds.

So on top of one of the poorest shooting exhibitions I have ever put on, I now am rewarding the dogs for bad habits and flat out knocking. The shooting, has its own set of obstacles. I used to be a good to better than good wingshooter. That is back in the day, when I lived in bird country and hunted every chance I had. That was before marriage, and children, and work obligations.  When I was in a target rich environment. Sure I hunted hard and had to work for the birds but I had a lot of real life practice. I have slowly gotten progressively worse in the shooting department. So what gives? My eyes. I am one of the minority it seems as I am no longer right eye dominant. So, I am currently shooting right handed and am left eye dominant. So either I close one eye or I need to learn to shoot lefty.  Or can this be fixed with more focus and practice.  We will see how this plays out…

Eye dominance test: Look at a object in the distance. Make a triangle with your hands and center the object in the triangle.  Then close your shooting eye (dominant) eye.  Do you still see the object?

eye test

Now back to the dogs. I can’t say that all is lost. There have been some bright rays of sunshine that have shone through, even in the gloomiest of storms.  For the most part the dogs are doing there job well enough.  Certainly better than the average dog.  They hunt hard and handle well, and that is better than a lot of other dogs I have hunted behind.  Ironhide has had some outstanding pieces of birdwork, and is learning to play the game with ditch chickens quite well. He still stops to flush and has stayed broke several times. Bella, who is a wild bird rookie this year, is starting to find and point her own birds, and she is hunting dead very well, even though she points the dead birds rather than retrieve them to hand. And Luke, the pup that doesn’t know anything, has had the instinctual fire stoked by having a few coveys flush in his face, during some evening road training sessions. But Magic… The most experienced dog on the crew, the oldest dog, has decided that she needs to see every bird she smells. See em’ on the ground, see em’ in the air. She doesn’t care anymore. And what have I done to stop this. Nothing. Nope, I shot, which just rewarded her. But at least she is still does a great job retrieving.  Like I said, I have created most of my own problems.   I have to hunt her alone now, until we fix this issue.

Magic makes the retrieve.


Why is it that I can’t hold off, when I know I shouldn’t shoot? Why can’t I force myself to be disciplined? Am I so amped about shooting birds this year because I didn’t get to hunt much at all last year?  Actually I haven’t hunted much for about 5 years as I had been almost exclusivley training and trialing. Are the dogs pressuring birds too much because I have over worked them on throw downs? Will more exposure on wild birds straighten this out? I can admit that I am puting pressure on myself to kill a lot of birds this year. Why, I don’t know.  Its not like I will starve if I return home with an empty game bag.  I think it impacts both my lack of discipline and my poor shooting. I just find it so damn frustrating that I used to kill so many birds with my old lab/mutt and now I am struggling to scratch a few birds down.

Cooper with Huns and Sharpies.  I miss this dog!

Cooper in Montana

Cooper Huns and Sharptail

A good friend and mentor of mine that has decades more experience than I do told me this, “What you are going through is what we all have to go through at some point. We have to make a decision. We have to decide whether good birdwork is more important, or is killing more important.” My response would be that of course good birdwork is more important, but I know deep down I am a killer. My first 15 years of bird hunting didn’t require all this discipline. If a legal bird got up within range you tried to kill it. End of story. I feel as though it is ingrained in me. Kill any bird that offers a safe shot. It is a real problem for me. I want to stop, but it’s so damned hard.

I have to make the decision now. What do I want more? I want the good work! I am going to have to force myself to walk with an unloaded gun and only shoot properly pointed and handled birds. That is the only way I can do it. But can I even do that? Can I pass up birds that I walk up? Birds that the dogs had nothing to do with. Will I be able to overcome the need to shoot a bird? Will I be happy if I don’t shoot another bird all season? I can’t answer that. It would be disappointing to say the least. But I have made the decision. The dogwork must take precedence.  We shall see if I can stay on the wagon.

There is still hope. There is still time and still some hunts to come. One of which I am looking forward to more than others. Texas. On a ranch where the birds haven’t been hunted for years.

Like I said, “It hasn’t all been bad.”  For the remainder of the season, I think its time to focus on quality work and not the quantity of dead birds.

Ironhide on Point


The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Opening weekend.  The anticipation build up is usually more spectacular that the hunting itself.  This year was probably not going to be any different.  I had been trying to gather as much field intel as I could in the months leading up to November.  I was watching for birds while traveling for work and occasionally running dogs to spot check a few areas.  What I was gathering, was that this year had the makings of a good one.  But, unlike most years, this opener actually held up, at least the bird numbers did.

I have been struggling to get out of bed early for a while now.  I would say this condition has been effecting me for about the last 30 years or so.  But when the morning of the opener comes, it always seems to be a little easier to rise. In fact I think I was awake for an hour before the first chime of the alarm went off.   The plan was to get parked near where I wanted to hunt before sunrise and listen for birds to give away there locations.  As soon as I shut off the ignition and poured steaming coffee out of the thermos, with the windows down, listening, I heard the unmistakable, Bob-White,….Bob-White, whistle.  Not only was I the audience for one choir, I heard several whistlers in different directions.  I was as happy as fat kid in an ice cream parlor.

After collaring the dogs and gearing up, making sure I was carrying enough water.  We set out straight for the covey that I thought was closest.  It didn’t take long and Hide had stopped dead in his tracks. Head and tail held high. Eyes staring forward with a piercing glare.  Now this is the kind of start to a season we dream about.  Just after sunrise, cold, crisp air, and a staunch pointer with birds in front of him.  I circled around him on his right and motioned for my wife to move in from the left.  The little setter, who was, at the time, doing her own thing, decided to come by as if on cue and backed nicely.  As I paralleled him he started to slowly creep.  We were in a little bowl of crp grass.  The covey didn’t have woody cover to duck into so I picked up the pace and moved in front to flush.  Two birds got up and flew directly at my wife.  No shots offered.  Then another step and another bird was up, quartering away.  Easy shot and a clean miss.  %$&(!  At the shot the rest of covey took to flight in every direction.  I emptied the second barrel…. And then I cussed again.

“Okay, fine I missed two gimme shots.  Whatever”.  I thought to myself.  Most of the covey went over the hill.  We’ll just find some singles. Bella, my young setter female,  found and pointed a single and it fell after a rushed, but lucky shot.  That made me feel a little better.  This is her first season and I just shot her first wild bird.  Success is sweet.  The retrieve, well that wasn’t so sweet.  She found the little flapping bird in a dense thicket and then proceeded to leave it lay.  She was off to find more, I guess we have a little work to do there.

We never did find anymore singles and opted to just hunt onward for another covey.  We walked for 20 minutes or so and Hide struck gold again.  I found him pointing on the edge of a plum thicket.  As I was walking in his direction, he started to move and then froze and then moved again.  This proved to be too much for the birds and they lifted.  I was still too far out of shotgun range for a shot.  I thought this would make a good training exercise for him anyway.  He needs to learn to stand his birds even when they are moving away from him.  They didn’t go far.  Maybe 70 yards and then plopped down in another thicket.  I hustled over to the where I thought the birds had landed and before the dogs (who didn’t see where they went) got there, I had walked to far and was standing in the middle of the scattered covey.  The first birds to get up, shot up right behind me and after a wonderful attempt at a 180 to eye the bird that flushed and another one 180 to try spy the second bird I heard flush, they got the best of me.  No shots.  Bella showed up and had a stop to flush as she ran over a bird with the wind at her back.   I pulled up and fired… and it kept on keepin on.  As predicted the remainder of the covey exploded when the shot when off.  I picked out the last bird to go, the late riser of the group.  This time I took my time and settled in.  And… missed for the fourth time of the day.  Yes,  I cussed again…. a lot.

We moved on and found another couple of coveys that Hide pointed nicely.  I managed to get a few shots off and scratched down one more bird.  We worked our way back to the vehicle to water and switch dogs.  It had been a pretty good start to the 2015 season.  Well, at least we were finding birds, even if the shooting was horrendous.

The second walk of he morning didn’t produce much.  I was hunting the third wheel of the dog team solo.  The wind had picked up and the temps had risen considerably.  We hunted towards and then around any water source we could find and then finally decided to head back to the truck after one covey, more crappy shooting, and a few pheasants that tried to out maneuver us.  The two roosters succeeded and the hens used their “I’m a girl, don’t shoot” cards.

That afternoon I made the call to spend the early afternoon driving several hours just to check out an area that I thought would be promising.  This was a risky call.  Spending almost 3 hours driving to only hunt for another 2 1/2.  But it was windy and hot, in the middle of the afternoon and scenting conditions would not favor the dogs.  As the sun was setting, I was glad that I had made the call.  The area that I wanted to check out was doin good in the bird department… doin real good.  I ran the point/setter duo again and we moved several coveys in a relatively small area.  My shooting still sucked, but I was a manage to put a few in the vest.  I thought this area would be good and now I had the boots on the ground info.  We will be back.

We drove all the way back to where we started, and called it a night.  The next morning we where at em early again.  With whistling birds singing to us as we drank our morning coffee.  But this day the whistling birds could not be found.  I was dumfounded and a little pissed, that we could find them.  They sounded like they were right there.  I looked everywhere that I thought they could have been.  We hunted on.  Found nothing on this windy morning.  Switched dogs and headed off.  Magic found and busted covey after covey.  Pointing and then knocking.  I have no effin clue what her deal is… or has been.  All I know is that it made me furious.   She did this a few times on training runs as well.

I just rembered…. A few months ago we did a little warm up session with some stupid pen birds.  There was no wind and she pointed one as she basically ran it over.  Pointed it right under her nose.  Right before she caught it.  Is that it?  Did catching one bird in a training session, screw her up this bad.  Maybe.  Every covey she pointed and flushed she likely saw as she was in a thicket.  She probably saw them running and thought she could catch them.  I dunno.. I am still mad about it.  Hopefully I get this think nipped in the butt quick.

After Magic’s showing I was not very happy and  went back to the truck and got Hide out again.  We hunted our butts off in the wind and didn’t find much.  Shot a rooster and pointed a few more hens.  I was tired and left  a little defeated after piss poor dog work from Magic, and my shooting slump from hell.  We  loaded up and head home.

All in all, it was still a good weekend.  We were bird huntin’ after all.  And there are birds this year.